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3-HOUR-TOUR

Say Ole! and Visit Santa Ana's Lively Fiesta Marketplace

July 08, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD | Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a department store worker in Santa Ana's Fiesta Marketplace flipped on a recording by El General, the Spanish-language rapper. Six children in the wide department store doorway began to dance, and the adults gathered in a half-circle and smiled.

One block away, about 20 men in white cowboy hats crowded around a barroom entrance, waiting to enter and watch the America's Cup soccer match.

Street vendors hawked cantaloupe on a stick, churros and snow cones.

Fiesta Marketplace is a lively place.

The collection of shops, restaurants and theaters running along 4th Street was built in the late 1980s to serve the local Latino population.

Sunday is the best day to go to be among the bustle and shop the sidewalk sales. It helps if you speak at least a little Spanish, although most of the shopkeepers speak English.

11 to 11:30: Of all the shops in Fiesta Marketplace, El Faisan looks the most like a place for tourists. Half of the shop is Western wear, with huge, embroidered sombreros, $40 silver belt buckles, hats, boots, shirts and belts.

The other half of El Faisan sells imports from Mexico and Guatemala. You'll find colorful wool blankets and embroidered handbags here.

El Faisan's owner, Javier Marin, hosts a dance contest for kids each Sunday from 11 to noon in the courtyard behind his shop. The contest is intended to promote Western wear for kids, which Marin sells.

"It's so they will not dress like . . . (members of) gangs," he says.

11:30 to 12:15: Taqueria Guadalajara looks like a basic cafeteria-style operation, but the lines that frequently form at the cash register tell you the place must be exceptional--and it is.

Dishes are made to order and are served hot and fast. Most entrees are under $5, except for the seafood menu. Shrimp soup, for example, is $6.75, and the fried fish platter is $8.50.

Tacos, 99 cents each, can be filled with some rare items: goat meat, beef head, beef tongue and beef brains.

The taquitos with guacamole ($4.50) are very good, though the quesadillas were a little on the greasy side.

12:15 to 12:30: A small merry-go-round twirls tiny passengers near the public square section of Fiesta Marketplace. Rides are free. There are shaded picnic benches and tables here, too, in case you ordered take-out.

12:30 to 12:45: Catholic mementos always fascinate me, and I haven't found a shop as satisfying as St. Theresa's in all of Orange County.

There are prayer cards, in English and Spanish, and scapulas and rosary beads. Painted images of saints show them bleeding, glowing and hanging out with imaginary animals in that especially dramatic way that seems typical of Mexican art.

12:45 to 1:15: Brian's men's clothing store has a wide selection of Levi's and some very nice bargains. A men's silk shirt for $18, for example, and a well-made suit for $125.99.

1:15 to 1:30: The 3 Hermanos is a fun place to shop for shoes.

Women's shoes come in a range of colors, from pink to purple to neon green. The men's selection sticks to blacks and browns and grays, but you can find alligator in several styles--shoes, boots and ankle-high boots.

1:30 to 1:45: Q Fashion women's clothing store sells some knock-out party dresses, with sequins and bows and multilayered skirts. Colors are black, blue and red. Prices run $50 to $80.

1:45 to 2: For discounts, check out the Fallas-Paredes department store. Kids' shorts are $2.99, and polo shirts are $3.99. Women's tube tops are 99 cents. The store also specializes in cribs, diapers and other baby items.

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